Shanley Kane, Danger Seeker

Much amusement has been had at the disintegration of Shanley Kane. I have sniggered at her situation, but not much, because really I do feel sorry for her. She has, by any standards, been horrendously abused.

The major aspect of that abuse was, of course, being told that what she was doing was worthwhile. To quote from Amelia Greenhall’s blog, “I wanted to found a new feminist tech media company.” The word “company” is a little out of place there; obviously what she actually founded was a political pressure group, funded by supporters. The Conservative Party sells newspapers, but it’s not a company.

So the purpose of this political pressure group, which Kane was invited to co-found, was “feminist tech media”. In other words, to disrupt and make trouble for the tech industry. There were people who wanted that, and they were willing to pay Greenhall and Kane to do it. Think of Kane’s assigned role as something like this:

You would have to have something wrong with you to take that task on as enthusiastically as Kane did, and it is now revealed that she does indeed have a lot wrong with her. Attempting to impose on technologists a culture based on giving primary importance to the nature of interpersonal relationships is as much a request to be hurt as is getting into a sexual relationship with Andrew Auernheimer.

But the effect of throwing missiles like Shanley Kane at the technology industry is very large. Eric Raymond, in his open-source Withywindle, can ignore the battles going on outside and say, shut up and show us the code, but the world of commercial software development has HR departments, regulators and press to deal with. Once it gets to the point that a female candidate for a software role is more likely to be a political trouble-maker than one of the unusual women with a taste for technology, then all such candidates are necessarily going to be treated with a great deal of suspicion.

I have never met a single technologist who wanted to keep out women. It would come naturally to any of them to welcome women colleagues and even to go out of their way to make things easier for them. But now that has to change. Because of people like Shanley Kane, and the men who fund them and send them into battle, it is now becoming important to keep women out of technology, because every single one is a danger. Even if they don’t start out as political activists, they might change and become one, and then attempt to tear your organisation down around them for the popular rewards that would bring. The existence of the tech industry in its present form is an insult to those who base their influence on the claim that men’s and women’s minds are identical, and those who have been brought up in that religion, and they would rather destroy it than have it continue as a reproach to their principles.

The future misogyny needed by technology is an instance of a general principle. A confident, secure structure can allow quite large amounts of diversity of thoughts and attitudes; something that is genuinely very valuable. You can have women who want to program computers, obsessives who talk to themselves and have beards down to their navels, camp gays and women who wear bow ties and smoke pipes.

A structure which is under attack, however, cannot allow itself those luxuries. It must respond to the threat by closing ranks, emphasising a common culture and defending that culture from outsiders. In doing so, it reduces its potential, but it has no choice. That is what our society is coming to. Women and minorities will be worst hit.

Ched Evans and the mob

A minor press flap in the UK last week was around the minor football player Ched Evans. Evans was convicted of rape in 2012, and, on his release from prison, he was expected to start playing again, for Oldham Athletic.

There was huge public outcry about this, and eventually Oldham backed out.

In the shadow of the Charlie Hebdo murders, there were voices that presented the outcry against Oldham employing Evans as an example of the kind of hysterical intolerance that shuts down speech in the West. “Who needs the Islamic State of Sharia Law when mainstream British politics has become so poisonous and illiberal?”, writes Duleep Allirajah in Spiked

There is truth in this argument, but in the end Ched Evans is not a tenable subject for making a case against the mob. The reason is not what he did (rape), but what he does (football). The existence of professional football is down to the whim of the mob, and there is no way to remove the mob from professional sport.

Essentially, Ched Evans is in the same boat as female tennis players who claim they should be paid the same prize money as men.

A road sweeper who has served a sentence to a crime can claim he has the same moral right to be employed as any other road sweeper. Similarly, a female doctor can claim she has the moral right to be paid the same £100,000 a year as a male doctor. Those claims are debatable, but there is certainly a framework in which they make sense.

However, nobody has a moral right to be paid to play football, any more than Stan Wawrinka has a moral right to be paid millions for playing tennis. The only justification for any of them is that they are paid what the market will bear: that people are willing to spend that much of their own money on them voluntarily. And, people are not prepared to spend as much money on female tennis players (even with extra incentive). Also, people are not prepared to spend the money on Ched Evans. The public’s willingness to prefer mens tennis over women’s tennis, or non-rapist footballers over Ched Evans might be right or wrong, but if the choice is to be taken from the public, it seems inevitable that it would take away professional sport entirely. The whim of the public is the only justification for professional sport, so participants must accept its judgement.

Tradition and Traditions

“Free Speech” is not a vital civilised value. We don’t believe that. Conservatives don’t believe that. Liberals certainly don’t believe that. Some libertarians actually do, but they’re a tiny proportion of those currently claiming to be Charlie.

Similarly, nobody sensible believes that nothing is worth killing for.

Reactionaries don’t believe that journalists are a class of people who, being holier than the rest, deserve particular protection from the results of their actions. Conservatives shouldn’t (but some of them do). Liberals are more-or-less defined by believing this.

The “Mohammed Cartoons” flap was never civilisation versus Islam. It was off-message liberals versus on-message liberals, with conservatives and Muslims piling in on opposite sides, idiotically thinking themselves important.

On-message liberals believe in diversity. It was originally a means of destroying their parents’ civilisation, but that aim having by this time been utterly achieved, it is now something they believe in out of  tradition. They might one day change their minds about it.

Off-message liberals believe in free speech. It was originally a means of overthrowing aristocratic government, but that was achieved centuries ago, and they carried on believing in it out of tradition for a while, but have now mostly jettisoned it. It still pops up in old ritual pronouncements, but only as a form of words. A few dim bulbs such as the Charlie Hebdo types haven’t kept up.

This shows that “traditionalist” as such is not a useful category. Charlie Hebdo and Al Quaeda both represent traditions, but not ones we support.

Techno-Libertarian Hell

Someone (I thought it was @johnrobb, but I can’t find it) tweeted a while ago that, since any normal person can cause a much higher  value of damage than they can ever create as gain, there is vast growth potential in extortion.

I didn’t see it worked out from tweet-length to a full explanation, but the implications are of huge importance.

The assumption itself is obvious enough. Destruction is easier than creation. A person who, by working full-time, can create value of $X a year, can surely, if they put their mind to it, destroy value of $10X without getting caught. Vandalism is easy. Sabotage is easy.

If you add to that fact two additional factors: anonymous communication and untraceable payment, the results are potentially catastrophic. A person who can make $X a year by productive activity can surely make $3X by demanding payment in exchange for not doing $10X worth of damage. All they need to do is make the threat, and collect the money.

That happens to a relatively limited extent today, because it is difficult to receive extortion payments without getting caught. Therefore, crime prevention activity need only be exerted towards preventing forms of damage from which the criminal can directly extract profit (mainly theft), and to the forms of vandalism that people carry out out of simple stupidity, usually under the influence of alcohol.

Anonymous communication we now have: it is reasonably practical to send someone an untraceable threat. Untraceable payment is another matter, but it is a realistic prospect if bitcoin or the like achieve what some hope they will.

The thinking of the anonymous-payment proponents generally focuses on the implications for tax and trade restrictions—essentially that taxation or prohibition of voluntary exchanges will become impossible, which the techno-libertarians see as desirable. But the question of  extortion becomes fundamental, not something that can be easily worked around.

I can think of only two ways of dealing with extortion given the premises of untraceable communication and payment. The first is a totalitarian level of surveillance to detect the actual destructive activity. From a libertarian point of view, this is surely a cure worse than the disease of taxation and prohibition that untraceable payments are hoped to evade. On the other hand, while one set of technological advances are enhancing virtual privacy via encryption, other technological advances are at the same time limiting physical privacy via surveillance. Think of drones, etc. The most acute  techno-libertarians might be assuming that physical privacy is doomed anyway.

The other possible escape would be to create strong norms against payment of extortion demands. If the extortionists are not paid off, then they will do some damage but it will not be a profitable activity, and it will decline to a very low level. It is not clear whether such norms can be established and socially enforced.

In conclusion, I don’t think a state can permit untraceable payment if it wants to remain at peace. If extortion is unchecked, that has the effect of reducing capital accumulated to the point that everything of value can be defended against malicious destruction, which is probably an order of magnitude less than what we have now.

At present, untraceable payment is still a bit tricky; we have bitcoin, but bitcoin is not untraceable; all transactions are public, and while you can launder your proceeds through multiple anonymous accounts, the more you try to extract the harder it is to cover your tracks.